Friday, 12 March 2010

Catching Children in the Rye

I'm writing a few hours after the ordeal that is (the amazing) Grave of the Fireflies - involving a young teenager and his impotent effort to look after his little sister in WWII Japan - and about a month after the termination of my National Service job in a special needs kindergarten - involving the abrupt desertion of 8 children who'd gotten very attached to me after barely two months with them.

These two things are doubtless incomparable in terms of the circumstances and the actual trauma suffered, but they share a common theme, and both seem to have similarly hit me rather harder than the substantial forcefulness with which they usually do or would have done most people. It messes me up from the inside out.

I'd make a pretty shitty dad at the moment, and that's upsetting, as is the less hypothetical letting down of kids who did and still do need me, but it's not that upsetting. I can recognise and accept my extenuating circumstances even if nobody else does, and the fact is people do, so it's not really, or at least not overwhelmingly, guilt for this situation.

It touches on something. It strikes some super-sensitive chord somewhere. Something to do with protecting children, or being childish, and maybe that's the same thing, but something to do with children anyway.

Protecting childishness, I think, in yourself as well as in others. Protecting childness, if you like. The quality of not feeling like you're supposed to appease others, or feeling it but not attributing much significance to it, not internalising the repression.

People talk about and idolise childhood as this innocent and carefree time, but as anybody who's ever actually met a child can testify, this is blatantly untrue. They are conniving bastards and highly strung prima donnas. We look after them and envy them not because they're sweet and serene, but because they're vibrantly, violently alive, with an aliveness that renders them even more vulnerable than they'd already be with their inability to fend for themselves, to organise their world.

Vulnerability provokes empathy, or at least it does with decent people. The more vulnerable the person or situation, the more compassionate the empathiser.

I had a thought the other day. I noticed that when I'm speaking to people, mainly when it's strangers I'm exchanging more than businesslike formalities with, a benevolent, maternal smile and expression transform their face and body language, even if they're men. At the time I was insulted - it made me feel like a puppy - but suddenly I'm thinking that maybe this is part and parcel of being alive. Just like some will look at you contemptuously, others will look at you with a king of sweet condescension. It ought to be worth it still.

Where am I going with this? I think I do empathise and respect and promote vulnerability in others. I will maintain, despite knowing at least one person disagrees with me, that I am excellent at receiving balloons. I think what I'm trying to tell myself right now is that I'm atrocious at receiving my own, even before they're offered for anybody else's consideration. I have no indulgence for my vulnerabilities at all. I'm ruthless with them. If anybody acknowledges them I feel like a puppy.

I show no compassion to myself. There's lots of love, and goodwill, and patience, but there's no acceptance. No indication that it's okay to either run in the rye or fantasise about catching children in it - just a cold, judicious, paternal guidance. I focus all my time on being an adult and almost none of it on being a child, an eventuality I remember warning myself against early on in this blog.

Many will say that is natural for a man beginning his 20s, but I do genuinely see both "grown-up" and "child" as institutions rather than stages of development, and I'm going to keep trying for both. The fact is I encourage both in others - I just need to be consistent and include myself.

Sometimes something is good and worthwhile just because it's important to somebody. That somebody's allowed to be me.


  1. The link at the beginning of the post is broken. It's simple to fix.

  2. Thanks. I feel a little dumb now. Now everybody knows it's a movie.